Photo By J. Alan Paul Photography
There are fourth graders in Bison Nation who know nothing in life but a Missouri Valley Championship. Eight years. No real failure. Sure, the 2016 team didn’t win a national championship, but they made it to the semifinals and beat a nationally ranked Iowa team in Kinnick Stadium. As Coach Klieman reminded us down in Frisco, that’s pretty dang good.
You guys might remember my “Pack the SHAC” column from a couple of months back in this very magazine. I intimated that maybe the success of the football team had spoiled the fan base. It is indeed possible that Coach Bohl and Coach Klieman’s success skewed expectations for the other sports in the department.
I’m starting to realize now, though, that they are skewing reality. The level of success that they’ve found a way to sustain isn’t even incredible, it’s borderline impossible. It’s something that I wouldn’t believe if I hadn’t lived here for the duration.
Just ask Coach Klieman:
“It is the greatest run in the history of college football, I truly believe it.”
The haters will certainly tell you that it’s easy. That NDSU should move up to FBS, or that they’re the “JV” of Division I. Because it happens over and over, it must not be very difficult, right? Wrong. It’s very difficult. Just because it’s unprecedented doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard.
The reality is that North Dakota State doesn’t really have a ton of intrinsic advantages. Sure, the Fargodome is a nice place, but it’s more than 20 years old. Very few Bison are choosing North Dakota State because of the friendly confines of the Thunderdome. NDSU also doesn’t have an indoor practice facility (yet). UND does. SDSU does.
There are schools with better facilities. There are schools with bigger athletic budgets. There are schools in nicer climates where it is easier to recruit. It never seems to matter, though. The Bison win, and they do it over and over and over again.
Every school gets 63 scholarships to be divided up between no more than 85 players. It is an even playing field. It just happens to be an even playing field where one team happens to be the one at the top of the mountain.
When Coach Klieman took over the head coaching position from Craig Bohl, it was explained to him very clearly by then-athletic director Gene Taylor that 8-3 and a playoff appearance would not be considered a successful season here. 7-4? People would be calling for your job. Matt Entz faces that exact same challenge right now.
The point that I’m slowly approaching here is that while the goals of North Dakota State football will always remain the same, it’s important that the results are viewed with a realistic perspective. This is indeed, as Coach Klieman pointed out, the greatest run in college football history. It’s potentially the greatest run in football history, period.
Here are some of the greatest football runs of all time:
Green Bay Packers (NFL) – 1961, 62 and 65 NFL Champions followed by Super Bowl Championships in 66 and 67 — ultimately equates to five titles in seven seasons
Mount Union (NCAA D3)- titles in 1993, ’96, ’97, ’98, 2000, ’01, ’02, ’05, ’06, ’08, ’12, ’15, ’17 — ultimately 13 championships in 24 seasons
Alabama (NCAA FBS)- 2009, ’11, ’12, ’15, ’17 — ultimately four championships in seven seasons
None of these runs are as successful in as concentrated a period of time. Impressive? Sure. Incredible? Absolutely, but ultimately it’s not eight conference championships in eight years with seven national championships in the same time. That is two full classes of players, from freshman year to senior year than from freshman year to senior year again with no more than one playoff loss to the eventual champion.
Since the Bison left the field in Cheney, Washington, after losing a national quarterfinal game in overtime on Dec. 11 in 2010, they have a 112-8 record. One hundred twelve and eight. Their all-time record in the FCS playoffs is 32-2. That’s a winning percentage better than 94 percent.
North Dakota State’s success level in football is the kind of success that you had in EA Sports’ NCAA Football series when you started the Dynasty Mode and played every game. The Bison get their pick of the FCS recruits, and then everyone else fights for the rest. When they actually lose a game, it’s borderline national news.
It certainly seems like I’m hammering home the point here. I just want the general Bison public to truly appreciate how difficult this run has been. It is a truly unrealistic level of success, yet as Bison fans it is our reality.
Here’s another way to put what NDSU has accomplished into perspective. Take Ohio State for example. The Buckeyes are a Midwest program and one of the very top football programs in the country. Since 2013, Ohio State is 74-8. Even at that level of winning, Urban Meyer’s program still “only” has three conference championships and one national title.
At North Dakota State, that would be considered a train wreck, and that’s darn good football. Fan expectations are now that North Dakota State will stand atop the mountain of the 125 FCS programs every season. Not every time that they’re able to build up a good group of seniors and juniors, not every time the stars align and they stay healthy. Every. Single. Season.
This certainly may come across as me making excuses in advance for the new coaching staff. It isn’t. Coach Entz and his crew are going to have the same high standards that were installed by Craig Bohl and were continued and elevated by Chris Klieman. Winning at a national level is still going to be priority one.
It’s just important that we as a people follow and appreciate everything that this football team has done and take time to reflect on how ridiculously successful this has all been. The Dynasty is in no way over, but at some point, a person needs to look back and reflect. We have all in some way, big or small, been a part of the most successful run in college football history.
That is pretty cool.